Moffitt Cancer Center Awarded Prestigious National Cancer Institute SPORE Grant Worth Nearly $9 Million

September 23, 2013

TAMPA, Fla. – The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded Moffitt Cancer Center a Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant for melanoma research. The grant, which will be overseen by Jeffrey S. Weber, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Donald A. Adam Comprehensive Melanoma Research Center of Excellence, totals $8,829,020 over five years. This is Moffitt’s second SPORE grant. The first, a SPORE for lung cancer research, was awarded in 2008.  Moffitt is the only cancer center in Florida that has received this prestigious grant.

“SPORE grants were established to promote interdisciplinary research and move basic research findings from the laboratory to a clinical setting. This collaborative bench-to-bedside approach to medicine is ingrained at Moffitt. The addition of a melanoma SPORE acknowledges the translational research being done by our Comprehensive Melanoma Research Center of Excellence,” said Weber. “We are honored to be recognized by the NCI. This SPORE grant will allow us to significantly enhance our efforts to contribute to the prevention and cure of skin cancer.”

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Although melanoma accounts for less than 5 percent of all skin cancer cases, it is the deadliest form of the disease, responsible for 75 percent of all skin cancer-related deaths. This new SPORE grant will fund three melanoma research projects aimed at improving melanoma treatment and outcomes.

  1.       Potentiating the effects of targeted and cytotoxic agents on cell-based immunotherapy in melanoma
  •          Investigators: Jeffrey S. Weber, M.D., Ph.D., and Dmitry I. Gabrilovich, M.D., Ph.D., of The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia.
  •          This unique project studies targeted therapy with T cells and adoptive transfer of T cells with the goal of boosting the immune system’s response against melanoma cells. It is one of only two such trials in the United States.
  1.       Abrogation of therapeutic escape pathways in BRAF mutant melanoma
  •          Investigators: Vernon K. Sondak, M.D., and Keiran S. Smalley, Ph.D.
  •          This projects seeks to determine why some patients develop resistance to vemurafenib, a drug recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of BRAF mutation-positive metastatic melanoma. This will enable physicians to determine if the resistance can be overcome or if different treatment options are necessary.
  1.       Augmenting the immunogenicity of melanoma through manipulation of histone deacetylases (HDACs)
  •          Investigators: Eduardo Sotomayor, M.D.; Ed Seto, Ph.D.; and Jeffrey S. Weber, M.D., Ph.D.
  •          This innovative project looks at specific histone deacetylases, enzymes that regulate gene expression, to determine if they can be manipulated by an inhibitor drug to stimulate the immune system’s response against melanoma cells.

This melanoma SPORE has been several years in the making. In 2007, Moffitt was awarded a melanoma SPORE planning grant from Florida’s Bankhead-Coley Cancer Research Program spearheaded by Sondak, chair of the Cutaneous Oncology Program, to help recruit a team of interdisciplinary skin cancer researchers. Also that same year, Donald A. Adam, a melanoma survivor and banker, donated $20.4 million to Moffitt to expand expertise in the area of melanoma research. The gift led to the development of the Donald A. Adam Comprehensive Melanoma Research Center of Excellence and facilitated the recruitment of Weber.

Weber works closely with James J. Mulé, Ph.D., associate center director of Translational Science, and Sondak to develop multidisciplinary research focused on melanoma. These leaders have brought together more than 30 clinical and basic research scientists to allow Moffitt to become a leading center of excellence in melanoma research.

About Moffitt Cancer Center

Located in Tampa, Moffitt is one of only 41 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, a distinction that recognizes Moffitt’s excellence in research, its contributions to clinical trials, prevention and cancer control. Since 1999, Moffitt has been listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” for cancer. With more than 4,200 employees, Moffitt has an economic impact on the state of nearly $2 billion. For more information, visit, and follow the Moffitt momentum on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.